You are afraid of the sound of your own heart.
You whispered this over dinner, a secret you had only told a few men in your life. You would wake suddenly when your head was sideways on the pillow, you would hike with your headphones in and rip them out when, in between songs, the timpani of your pulse would pound in your ears. It’s not the sound, you explained to him, it’s the fear of it suddenly stopping. You’re afraid you will hear the moment your heart just stops.
You explain this to him, you drop it like a cat dropping a dead bird at his feet. This is what you do, you play the clown so often you may as well have a red foam nose. Maybe he laughs. Maybe he nods solemnly, understanding completely. This beautiful bearded one tilts his head, his lips purse. It is not you, you say to yourself, and offer to get him another beer when you get up. “I’m not good at giving compliments” he says later, handing you the most beautiful red flag you have ever seen. This cruelty is a kindness.
You think of his microexpression later, as you walk up the steps of the Airbnb in Seattle. You turn back in the damp air: the Space Needle, stabbing like a sharp bony finger, glittery downtown, the rolled up blanket that is Queen Anne. You open the door to the apartment as your face turns red as you remember the last words you said to each other, likely ever. “Do you want to come back to my place?” you had asked. “No thank you” he muttered, didn’t make eye contact. You pretended to see your Lyft arriving so you could walk away from him sooner.
You close the door behind you, brush your teeth, strip off your clothes. You get into the bed as if you are made of glass, you expect the tears to come. Instead, you scare yourself silly by laughing out loud in the quiet apartment. To your surprise, it’s not a harsh barking, false laugh, it is deep and baritone and genuine.
You realize maybe you are starting to like being single, grudgingly at first, but now each man is a shining door, each “no” is a gift. You get rejected so often and sometimes so cruelly that now your armor gleams from the impact like a gemstone in a tumbler. Only you know where the crack is and when to let him in, only you can take his hand, guide it to where to hit the armor just so to make it shatter. We all want love, surely, we all just want someone to bring us pizza and then choke us out, lovingly at first and less so when we need that too.
Still you are not cynical, despite what you’ve been through. You wait for the scab to form, the scar, the callus, but it does not. You feel as soft and sweet as you did the day you fell for him, that one, the one you knelt in front of when you courted him, the cause of your endless genuflections and prayers since it ended, too. He was an old soul and you are new, fresh, dewey: there is no way you have been on this earth before, in any life. You hold your sense of wonder like a crown. No: like a sword.
And the process! You love the process, you live for it. The questions you ask them: where were you born? What toys did you play with growing up? Was your father cruel or kind? You love it when they say they’re house Hufflepuff because then you know they’re bottoms. And the questions you ask yourself on a loop: Will this one hold my hand? How will my name sound when he says it? Will this one ever meet my parents?
This is your life now, and it’s more strange and more beautiful than you could have predicted. You are a comet going through a solar system, crashing into the planet of that man, swinging low around that one’s powerful gravity but escaping before you are crushed. You couldn’t find one planet without finding the others first, they’re in a specific and hidden sequence, but one that makes a crazy kind of sense. Maybe God does exist, as evidenced by the flow chart of the men you love, by the ones who love you back. You feel Her divine hand in every grasped bedsheet, in every grunt, in every swallow.
When you were younger, you thought you knew exactly the type of man you were looking for, to spend your life with. If you could have conjured him with clay, formed him like a golem, you would have. Each man you collided into taught you to risk more, to love more, to hurt more when it ended.
Maybe one day you will hear his siren song, you will be the sailor dashed upon his rocks. You will be the colonist and the conquered, you learn with every “no” now, who to say yes to in the future. He will not be cruel, he will not be cold, please God let him not be “chill”. The death of chill cannot happen soon enough, you pray that you never meet the wonder of someone who gives you their fascination with merely a shrug. Let his crazy be compatible with yours, let his calm find you when you need it most. Let him pray to catch you, let him dream of introducing you to his parents.
And in the meantime, you will keep being the clown, your red foam nose gets bigger and bigger and you laugh louder and heartier, it startles your cat off the sofa. You see, you are already in love.
You are in love with your own life, and you finally realize it has been telling you it feels the same way.
Top image by Pablo Muller.